The development of a personal ethos can be a grueling process. Pursue it too earnestly, and it avoids you. Sit back and wait for a moment of inspiration, and you risk it passing by in a moment of distraction. Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes years. The key lies in striking a balance between engaged self-inquiry and spacious “allowing”.
This process took months for me as I tend to swing back and forth between pursuit and passivity. I get distracted easily (I’m an Enneagram Type 7 with a 6 wing), and I often don’t hold space for the Universe to drop in and reveal magic.
In moments of pursuit, I would read examples of ethos statements, google what ethos even means, fret about why I couldn’t figure this shit out and generally drive myself crazy about the matter!
In moments of passivity, I would just resign myself to the fact that perhaps I would never figure this out and somehow that’s okay. Let me just say this, if you CAN’T figure it out…it IS okay. There’s value in the process no matter the outcome.
What kept me stuck was the fact that I often compare myself to others – friends, colleagues, mentors, my father. I read these statements that were inspiring and bold and I felt like I needed to rise to meet that level of “epicness”. Comparing myself to others has always kept me stuck. So instead, I zagged. This is the result.
Make Your Mind Still
Ryan Holiday’s book, Stillness Is The Key, is focused almost exclusively on the topic of inner stillness. Cultivating mental quietude. Seeking equanimity. This book was so compelling to me, I had the words “stillness” and “equanimity” tattooed on the inside of my wrists as a reminder to embody these qualities on a regular basis.
Our mental well-being represents the front line in the battle for meaning and quality of life. It is the source of great satisfaction and great suffering. Learning to intentionally cultivate opportunities for reflection and contemplation as opposed to rumination and compulsive worry helps to move us from one end of that spectrum to the other.
In support of my commitment to pursuing stillness and equanimity, I have a daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling that I have cultivated over the last several years that has allowed me to process and integrate some incredibly difficult personal and professional challenges.
As with all aspects of growth in life, this is a practice and an ongoing journey. But one I have dervied great value from over the years.
Make Your Wits Quick
This aspect of my ethos relates to my leadership style and commitment to lifelong learning. Over the course of my life, I have opted for an autodidactic approach to education. I did fairly well in formal education settings, but honestly have wide-ranging interests. From design to theology to marketing to economics to ekistics to psychology, sociology and human performance, I can be…distractable.
This makes for a fun conversation at parties, and a messy resumé.
Regardless, I lean into this aspect of my personality to build rapport with colleagues and teammates and connection with clients and others who may look to me for guidance and empathy.
Make Your Body Hard
I take great pride in the fact that in mid-life, I look and feel better than I ever have. I attribute this to a commitment to physical well-being and moderation. I am an athlete who is capable of riding a bike great distances and running a half-marathon with little to no training. I am strong, energetic, sexually potent and capable of meeting physical challenges.
In many ways, this outer, physical manifestation of my body is a reflection of my pursuit of spiritual and mental well-being. It’s a virtuous cycle that remains a lifelong process.
Now, in the spirit of complete transparency, I will admit that I struggle with excess. I love ice cream, pizza, burritos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips and salsa. I also love beer, wine and bourbon. And cigars.
Part of the value in making a statement like this is that it holds you to a higher standard. It holds you to account. It puts a mirror in front of you and asks you to answer the question, “Why?”
“Why am I having this bowl of ice cream?”
“Why am I having my 4th glass of wine?”
“Why did I skip that training session?”
Many times the answers to these questions are masking over some deeper struggle that needs to be considered. So being mindful and moderate is key.
When my mind is still and the heart is at peace, there’s nothing wrong with a good bourbon and cigar; especially after riding 100 miles.
Make Your Heart Soft
Speaking of hearts at peace, I am, by nature, a very tender and emotional person. I know this about myself. I’m a hugger. I’m a cryer. I love loving on people. I love my kids, I love my siblings, I love my parents, I love my friends, I love my dog. Hell, I even love my ex-wife(s)!
AND, I have endured some very painful and emotional losses over the course of my life that have led me to be more hard-hearted in recent years than is natural for me. This aspect of my ethos is here to remind me that strength and tenderness can coexist. That boundaries and vulnerability can coexist. That deep, loving, passionate intimacy and uncompromising self-respect can coexist.
Because I am a wildly passionate and creative person, I must keep my heart tender and open. Otherwise I rob myself and this world of the fullest measure of love I can give. And that, for me and the world, would be a great loss.
Set Your Ego Aside
Oh, ego. You complicated thing. I need you and I don’t all at the same time.
One of the difficulties we run into when we survey our lives and look for areas to improve upon is that we tend to attach great meaning to how we self-identify. This is the way we begin to separate ourselves from others. The way we define our “specialness”. Our uniqueness. Our entitlement to certain things. At some point, very subtly, this association with self can become problematic.
There is a particular anecdote in Russell Simmons’ book, Success Through Stillness, that tells of a group of veterans who are asked to practice transcendental meditation as a means of treating their PTSD and extreme social anxiety brought on by the trauma of urban combat. Essentially, these individuals had developed crippling anxiety of being around other people for fear that the “enemy” could be hiding anywhere among them.
Transcendental mediation, or TM, is a type of meditation practice that utilizes a mantra as a means of focusing the mind and intention during the practice. The mantra that was given to this group was “that person is just like me”. The aim was to defuse the fear and build empathy for others who experience many of the same struggles in life. In essence, building a sense of connectedness to and compassion for everyone.
This struck me as being a beautiful and paradigm shifting way of looking at the world. It lessens my tendency to focus on myself and my experience. It allows me to view others as if I were them. As an exercise, I can tell you this has opened me to feeling love and compassion for others who I would have had difficulty relating to in the past. We are all one.
Set Your Spirit Ablaze
I happen to believe we are 5-dimensional spiritual beings having a 3-dimensional physical experience on Earth. There is energy running around us and through us and inside of us that we are only barely able to comprehend. At the very core of my sense of well-being is this need to explore this most intimate aspect of my life and for my spiritual self to be burning bright.
I have always been fascinated by the esoteric and the traditional and non-traditional expressions of mysticism and spirituality. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and while I can trace some positive aspects of my values and morals back to that belief framework, over time I came to see it as rather stifling and out of alignment with how I wanted to craft my relationship with God.
This component of my ethos, like all the others, is subject to the influence of time and deeper understanding of self. But it is the seed from which everything else grows.
The lesson I am learning as a spiritual being having this physical experience is to trust my instincts as much as I can while also honoring the discipline and rigor it takes to get to a result that has meaning and value. This ethos statement is the result of leaning into that. Clear, concise and compelling, this statement represents a flag in the ground that supports my pursuit of holistic well-being while simultaneously reflecting my values and beliefs.
My challenge to you is to engage the process of crafting a personal ethos for yourself. No matter where you are in life, there is great value in doing work that serves to build you up and improve the overall quality of your experience of life.